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christina mchale at 2011 us open Christina McHale ohits a return to Maria Kirilenko of Russia during their match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York on September 2. (Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Christina McHale Courts Greatness

American tennis phenom dazzles at U.S. Open

By Samantha Coffey | September 9 , 2011
Kid Reporter Samantha Coffey with Christina McHale after their interview. (Photo courtesy Samantha Coffey)<br />
Kid Reporter Samantha Coffey with Christina McHale after their interview. (Photo courtesy Samantha Coffey)

Five years ago, Christina McHale was the valedictorian of her middle school in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Today, she is the youngest women's tennis player in the top 100 of the world. Clearly, she knows a lot about what it takes to succeed.

"It is important to love what you do," says Christina.

Christina emerged as one of the best American stories at this year's U.S Open in New York City. She made it to the third round of one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world, defeating France's Marion Bartoli, the No. 8 player in the world. Several weeks earlier, Christina defeated Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, currently the world's top-ranked women's player.

At age 19, Christina is traveling the world, playing the sport she loves. "I live out of a suitcase," says Christina, whose mother, Margarita McHale, travels with her. "It is hard because when my friends are going out on the weekends, I can't go because I have a tournament. But it is all worth it. "

Christina started playing tennis at age six when the family was living in Hong Kong. Margarita was playing doubles one day, and she brought Christina and her older daughter, Lauren, to the court with her and let them hit some tennis balls.

"We liked it and continued playing from there," Christina says.

By age 12, Christina stopped playing other sports she enjoyed – swimming and soccer – to focus exclusively on tennis. She began playing local, regional and statewide tournaments and kept moving up, as did Lauren, who now plays for the University of North Carolina.

The biggest reason for the McHale girls' success was their work ethic. Christina plays four hours of tennis six days a week, while devoting another hour and a half to fitness training.

"Christina works on improving her game every day," Patrick McEnroe, General Manager of USTA Player Development, says. "Her forehand and movement are her best assets, as well as her willingness to grind it out. Her upside is huge."

Currently ranked No. 55 in the world, the five-foot-seven, 127-pound Christina admits that it's not always easy being a professional athlete. In this year's French Open, for example, she had a 5-0 lead in the third set. A victory was just about guaranteed. Then her opponent got hot and Christina started to get tentative. She panicked. She wound up losing the final set, 9-7.
 
"I was absolutely devastated and I thought I would never get over this loss," Christina says. She thought about taking time off. Instead, she decided to play in another tournament in Rome a few days later. She wound up winning the tournament – and learning an important lesson about the value of perseverance.

Education is another passion in Christina's life. She enjoys reading and learning, and all through her school years hated getting less than an A, almost demanding perfection of herself. She has learned how vital it is to stay positive and not beat yourself up if you make a mistake. She has also learned that if you have big dreams you never know what will happen.

Christina's number one goal in tennis is to win a Grand Slam, preferably the U.S. Open — a tournament that is held not even 20 miles from her home.

What would it be like to be a U.S. Open champion?

"I can't even begin to describe how that would feel," Christina says. "It would be the most amazing thing. It would be a dream come true."

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